SOPHIE: in memoriam

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A black studio microphone on a white background. Pixabay

Young artist made a seismic impact on the music industry

You could be me and I could be you

Always the same and never the same

Day by day, life after life

Without my legs or my hair

Without my genes or my blood

With no name and with no type of story

Where do I live?

Tell me, where do I exist?

(“Immaterial”)

There’s a world inside of you

I wanna know what it feels like

I wanna go there with you

(“It’s Okay To Cry”)

Electronic producer, songwriter, singer, artist and self-affirmed pop star, SOPHIE, passed away last week, on January 30 at the age of 34. The artist was climbing a cliff, wanting a vantage point from which to see the full moon. The moon that night, pictures of which exploded on twitter as it shone over the Greek parthenon, was honoured as “SOPHIE’s moon.” One user on reddit commented on the now-famous photograph by Yiannis Liakos, saying, “I imagine that now, SOPHIE is floating through the cosmos like the ethereal being [SOPHIE] is, shape shifting freely.”

SOPHIE’s impact on the music industry cannot be overstated. As a producer, SOPHIE made possible some of the most iconic songs from artists that since took off or were able to pull themselves into the spotlight again with a fresh sound: the careers of Le1f, Vince Staples, Charlie XCX, Madonna, Superfruit and Kim Petras were all boosted by SOPHIE’s sounds. When it comes to SOPHIE’s own music, it’s never like anything I’ve heard before; for me, someone who when understimulated thrives on music that “scratches a brain itch” (I would not be able to concentrate on writing this right now without SOPHIE in the background) it is audio gold. The bold steps SOPHIE took with every piece, in audio, visuals and lyrics, challenged people in every sense.

But it isn’t only musically that she made an impact. The ideas that SOPHIE invited people to explore, and the things SOPHIE allowed people to feel (explicitly, as in “It’s Okay To Cry,” the song with which the artist came out as trans), remain invaluable as well. There are plenty of pieces about this that I’m certain are written better than mine, but I want to invite people who might not have known about SOPHIE to explore the absolute love that so many have for the artist and for those brave new concepts, those lessons for living. If nothing else, this article is a collection of really touching things I read during the week of SOPHIE’s passing.

The main lesson to explore, I think, is epitomized by the lyrics of “Immaterial,” and it is the absolute freedom that can be realized from taking control of one’s body, perception, mind and spirit. SOPHIE modulated voices, obscured faces, created bizarre, cosmic and mind-binding images, and otherwise remained in artistic control of the way SOPHIE was seen. As Niko Stratis says in Xtra,this resonated deeply from the perspective of transness: “SOPHIE spoke openly and fondly of transness in interviews, and her love for trans people was intertwined with everything she did.”   

SOPHIE said in an interview: “Transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting and struggling to survive […] It means you’re not a mother or a father, you’re an individual who’s looking at the world and feeling the world.”

In other words, transitioning – or being in any state of existence that involves a liminal stage, really – does not have to be uncomfortable, taboo, or unhappily concealed. It can be bold and joyful, shiny and exciting in the spirit of the pop music SOPHIE created. Nature and reality themselves are mutable, and changing is possible. Morgan M Page, in an essay called “Beyond The Flesh and the Real,” points out that this is particularly inspiring amid cissexist bioessentialism: “Though anti-trans bigots are quick to hold up unseeable chromosomes as […] a supposedly irrefutable gotcha, these vocoder gerhls [sic] walk right on past them as they cross not only the lines between sexes but between nature and machine.”

And this is for everyone. Many people (those I know personally, and those whose passing tweets I’ve read) have questioned or altered their perception of their gender during quarantine. Some have even used this very opportune time to transition. This is not frightening, as so many people would like to clutch their pearls and believe, but truly exciting and entirely human (or beyond-human, as SOPHIE might dare us to envision). In another Xtra article Alex V Green writes, “Transition is a universal experience […] many cisgender people seek to change their bodies for similar reasons trans people seek to change ours: social perception, personal comfort, identity and community. Though these experiences are diverse, the essential logic is shared […] as human beings, our bodies are laboratories, experimental terrains, perpetual works in progress always in need of an adjustment.”

Is it bold? Yes, in the same way that SOPHIE’s music sometimes sounds like, as many have called it, “pots and pans” – that is, in a way that allows us to imagine things yet unimagined. SOPHIE’s then-girlfriend once asked in an interview: “Do you believe in G-d?” SOPHIE answered easily: “Yes, G-d is trans.” If we all contain a spark of the divine, surely we also at times can catch a glimpse of G-d’s undefinability, transcendence and denial of categories that can’t possibly articulate the complexity of being. Art about transness lets us fully appreciate that totally holy experience.

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